Thursday, June 21, 2018

Dogs are the New Kids

I'm always amazed how capriciously humans will take on dogs as pets. Experienced dog owners aside, I wonder how many people realize the life-long (in dog years) commitment they are making. Dogs require a tremendous expense of time, resources and money. Needing to be walked, let out to pee, and the cleaning up of their poop is just the beginning.

Kids see puppies and think they are so cute, so the youngsters beg and whine, and parents relent. Then parents are stuck paying vet bills, medical bills after bites, and the expenses of damaged property. Dogs are like having kids, if one takes the task seriously. The newness wears off, and the dogs are neglected. They require tons of training, exercise, affection and attention. People leave them home all day, and the dogs are bored and lonely. I wonder how many people realize what they are getting into.

Yet dogs can be great companions and give us much joy. My childhood dog was Scout, a pug. He was so loyal, he would march behind my father as he push-mowed the yard, Scout following six feet behind, track after track. Once in his old age and basically blind, Scout showed up at my father's car dealership, making his way down the hall to Dad's office. It was if he had followed Dad's scent there.

Someone close to me tells the story of Solovar and Tab. Tab was a golden retriever that lost a leg chasing a train. You see him in the photo above, the front leg missing. He lead a long and rewarding life. Solovar, slender above, became chubby. Actually, this dog isn't Solovar - it looks like a coon hound. But Solovar the beagle and Tab were great friends. Tab had a knack for spotting and chasing squirrels. Solovar was somewhat clueless at this, but made up in enthusiasm what he lacked in skill. Tab would jump up from a leisurely respite, barking, and chase a squirrel across a yard and up a tree. Solovar, not seeing the squirrel but bent on the chase just the same, would follow close behind, also barking, and then run full speed into the stopped Tab. Tab would be pointing out the rodent and Solovar would run full speed into him, bowling them both over like big balls of fur.

We owned several dogs as adults - I think three were Chesapeake Bay retrievers. Beautiful, protective, serious about hunting, they loved to swim and fetch for hours. These dogs loved having a job to do. But the dog I owned with the most character was Zack, a Chocolate Lab. The man we got him from had named him "skeezics." I think this was his abbreviation for "having the runs." Zack was the runt of the litter, and soon most of my possessions, from ice chests to skis to shoes to frisbees, retained the teeth marks left by him.

Zack must have been spoiled by us (with love), because he acted like and thought he was human. I would wake up in the morning to find him in the bed on his back with his head up on a pillow. He was charming in whimsical ways. He would open a sliding screen door with a quick flick of his nose. He would squeal like a baby pig with joy when he hadn't seen us in a while. One of my fondest memories was of the time he found a dried dead fish by a desert lake. He was so happy about that, he was beside himself. He dashed past me again and again at breakneck speeds with that fish in his mouth, like a bolt of lightning. I don't know how we ever got it away from him.

The worst thing about dogs is, they die before we do. It's heartbreaking. I don't handle it well. It leaves a huge hole. But I'll think fondly back about what we called Zack's 'augering in,' - burrowing his nose and one shoulder into the carpet, hind end hiked up into the air. Zack was the greatest. I'll never forget him.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Byler Lane Winery is the New Chic Spot north of Leo

Just a short drive from either Auburn, Indiana, or Leo-Cedarville will spirit you to Byler Lane Winery, on County Road 35. In existence since 2016, the winery features impressive seating areas, both inside and out. Inside is beautiful reclaimed and refinished barn wood which panels the walls, regular tables and high-tops. There are also cozy, intimate corner couches and overstuffed chairs. Outside are fire pit areas, more couches and tables, cornhole frames and a giant jenga game. It's comfortable, spacious, and lovely inside and out. It's set back off a quiet country road, creating a peaceful ambiance.

Large windows show off distillery tanks in the back buildings where various wines are aged. No tours were available the Friday night we were there, but perhaps if you called ahead, you could arrange a guided walk-about for your group. A free tasting of five wines was offered. Featured were several sweet whites, dry whites, dessert wines, sweet reds, and dry reds. Some of their grapes were grown on site. For many of the better wines, grapes were imported elsewhere locally, regionally, and even across the country. New York State, California, and Chilean grapes all contribute to some of their better wines.

According to the facility's website, the winery is owned by members of the Byler and Lane families. Wine making started as a hobby in one of the owner's basements. JR originally had a concrete shop on the property. Workers used wood salvaged from four local barns to create tables, interiors, and exterior woodwork. A lovely stone fireplace is a highlight of the site.

Lots of scheduled activities are planned for the summer. Every weekend features live music groups and food trucks. Call the winery at 260-920-4377 for more information, or look for their Facebook page for descriptions of specific food vendors and musicians. The winery is closed Mondays, but it opens at noon the rest of the week. They close Sunday at 5 p.m., and are open until 7 or 8 p.m. the other days.

Guests must be age 18 and older. There isn't much food available when the catering trucks aren't there, but they do have some limited cheese and meat trays, chocolates, Coke products, and coffee for purchase. There's a cute pond with a covered picnic area, but signs announcing "no fishing, no swimming" seem a bit stand-offish. Oh well, it's their house, their rules! I suppose a little decorum is in order. They do claim to release new wines all the time, and promote seasonal favorites. I'm pretty sure I saw one of those wine-slushy machines behind the bar for those so inclined to drink that sort of thing.

I'm glad wineries are springing up in new places, and I'm really glad to see this one such a short distance from Leo, Indiana. One of my favorite things was the inside ceiling paneling - it must have been reclaimed tin roofing. It looked fabulous! Check it out soon for yourself.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Time to Talk about Bullying

I've found myself thinking about bullying over the past few days.  I heard a discussion about it on the radio. The person speaking said how vividly most of us remember being bullied, probably much more so than the person doing the bullying.  I don't know if that is true, but perhaps in many cases that is so.

I do remember some specific incidences from my past.  I don't think I ever experienced really severe treatment, so I feel for anyone who was treated much more cruelly than I was.  It happens all the time.  Humans can be really mean to one another.  It's learned behavior, I suppose.  I don't imagine in most cases it's something that arises from within.

Once when I was in high school, I started dating a boy a few years older than me.  I really didn't know him or the people he ran around with that well.  He had an ex-girlfriend; a very pretty, popular girl.  I guess she wasn't really over him, but I didn't know that.  Apparently she and her friends were out riding around in a car, and decided to come to my house and egg my car.  They were bold - the car was sitting in our carport, and they came right up and egged the car.  I think they even opened car doors and threw some eggs inside.  One of the problems about this was that it wasn't really my car - it was my mom's car that I just got to drive sometimes.  I wonder if they still think what they did was funny, or did they grow up and regret that?  I don't know.  I don't want to be friends with any of them now.  I never treated anyone like that.

I remember what was called "high school initiation" in my town. It was hazing.  They probably don't do that anymore, but it was very common in the 1970s.  Someone even called my mom and got permission to take me.  She told me later she said 'yes' because she thought the consequences might be worse for me at school, had she refused.

This was another opportunity for bullying. It was done in a group.  They took us to a public, city park. I don't remember everything, but I was made to do some embarrassing stuff.  They put oil, maybe even motor oil, in my hair. It was really hard to wash it out. Also in my hair - peanut butter, maybe gum too. The upperclass-women (seniors?) made some of the girls eat cat food and other gross stuff.  We were yelled at a lot, and made to lie on the ground and walk in compromising, uncomfortable positions around the town square.  I was amazed with how aggressive some of our tormentors were, and how some of them really got into the whole thing.  I don't really understand the point of all this to this day.  When my turn came to be one of the "initiators" to the younger girls, I refused to take part.  It probably was also another reason I never chose to join a sorority in college.  That whole 'group or crowd mentality' thing scares me to this day.

What is bullying really about?  I'm making up my own theories here.  I do believe in some cases it's about jealousy.  I have a lot of faults, but I'm not really a naturally jealous person. I'm grateful for that.   In other cases, I think it's a power play, a way to establish dominance.  That is so animalistic, like horses trying to establish a pecking order.  We are not so far removed from the animal kingdom as we would like to think we are.  Maybe this is really one good point of the value of church, morality or religion, if we can get people to really think and treat others as we would like to be treated.
It still happens.  Sometimes it's very subtle.  I'm laughed at, trivialized, mimimized sometimes by members of my adult friend group.  Patronized? They would deny it.  It's mind games.  I try to call it out.  People can't say directly what is really bothering them or they don't even really know, so they abuse others and take out their frustrations that way.  It all has to leak out in some way.   It's basic physics - the natural laws of the universe.

As an adult, I've taken a dance class with my teenage daughter. Unexpectedly, we were also bullied there. I guess a mother and daughter dancing together was such an anomaly, we were fair pickings for some rough treatment. Stares and "bird-dogging" came our way.  So infantile, yet hurtful.  It's hard to always keep up a thick skin.

Let us be kind. Let us be gentle. Let us say we are sorry when we have transgressed. Let us all play our parts to stop the cycles of bullying, ostracizing, intimidation, mocking, teasing, and all those things that can send us down that very dark road; which may lead, way too soon, to mayhem and violence. Peace be with you.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Chicago, the Musical, at the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne made Valentine's Day Special

It's been days since we saw the musical Chicago, and we're still singing the songs from it. Who can resist "Cell Block Tango", in which the six female jailbirds line up their cane chairs and seductively sing, "he had it coming"? The libretto is so good, one ends up rooting for the murderesses. After the stories that each lady tells in her part of the song, you know their guys were just asking for it. The victims had it coming and these ladies snapped!

Chicago is a light-hearted look at the heady times of an all-American era gone by. The Jazz Age, with liquor, loose morals, and guns ablaze, is all glamorized. Dripping with sensuous choreography by the late Bob Fosse and his protégé, Ann Reinking, Chicago is luscious, lascivious, sentimental, and thought-provoking. The Broadway-style play is tons better than the movie version - of course, because it was written for the stage.

In the glorious Embassy Theatre in downtown Fort Wayne, time stands still. Two nights of the traveling production of this show seems to have sold out. It's such a joy to gaze around at the old touches restored in the theater: the art deco lighting and painted molding, plush fabrics, charming old bathrooms and fixtures. See it while you can, people - classic theatres such as this won't be around forever.

Jennifer Fouche gave a thrilling rendition of the song "When you're Good to Mama" in the role of Matron Morton. Her range, her gutteral power, her scat and vocalizing were fascinating. She held the crowd in the palm of her hand. Queen Latifa played this role wonderfully in the popular movie, but she didn't have the chops of this actress. Kudos, Miss Fouche. You rocked it.

Give 'em the old "Razzle Dazzle" was performed with great polish by the dapper Brent Barrett. I felt as though I could see his blue eyes sparkling and his white teeth glinting from Row R, more than 20 rows back. (Orchestra seats are numbered separately). I remembered how fun it was to see Richard Gere tap dance during this song in the movie version. If you like him, Q. Latifa, Renee Zellweger, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, you might want to find this film on Netflix, Redbox or your cable or satellite provider.

One of my new favorite numbers is the song "Mister Cellophane." Performed brilliantly in the film version by John C. Reilly, the versatile, chameleon-like yet underrated actor, this number is a nod to the awkward, introverted, not-picture-perfect version of so many of us in modern society who feel outcast and isolated. Reilly was buff and fit in the movie version, although he was covered in dust, hole-y gloves and oversized shoes to make him look more like a sad clown/bum/slob/working man (the character is a mechanic in the role). In the Fort Wayne production, Roxy's husband is played by Paul Vogt, who brings much nuance to the part. Unapologetically large and heavy, his bulk brings great meaning to the lyrics of this song. How can the largest amongst us in society pass by us so invisibly? How can someone so huge move around as if he doesn't exist? Obesity is a current national health crisis, yet many of the so-called obese go through their days ostracized. I love when Amos pulls on his white gloves and seemingly dances with his jazz hands in dark lighting, vaudeville style. So all-American, so poignant and so brilliant.

Needless to say, I loved Chicago, and how scenes changed on the nearly bare stage without the need for lots of props and sets. The orchestra sat in a band stand on the stage, and so was part of the show. The Embassy does a great job with concessions. Lots of snacks and drinks are available, including alcohol (maximum two drinks per customer). There are plenty of lines set up, which minimizes waiting. If you have a chance to see a show there, don't miss out. The Embassy is trending in Fort Wayne, and deservedly so, after all the effort and renovation that has gone into it. For us, it was truly a Valentine's Day to remember.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pembroke Bakery and Cafe at 300 E Main has Tasty Vegan and Kosher-friendly Options

In the beautiful Auer Center across from the Fort Wayne Museum of Art is the sweet and savory Pembroke Bakery and Cafe. This center houses many important organizations, including Fort Wayne Trails, The Fort Wayne Ballet, Artlink Art Gallery, and the impressive ArtsLab theater.

It's so nice to see an independent cafe in this location. A lovely blue sky mural with clouds graces one wall, and sunny yellow paint adorns another. The cafe is open 10 or 11 - 8 Tuesday through Friday, 9 - 6 Saturday, and noon - 5 Sunday. Many items are vegan, gluten free, and/or kosher. They do include "carnivore" fare and lots of sweets, treats, and sodas.

There are hand rolled, kettle boiled bagels, large cinnamon rolls, brownies, cookies and doughnuts. Daily lunch specials are posted on Facebook. They also offer bakery gift baskets and pastry boxes which require 24-hour notice when ordering. Also available for pickup are sheet cakes and spinach quiche.

The cluck sandwich is a house made chickpea and wheat cutlet with lettuce, tomatoes, and vegan mayo on a house-made bun. It's a meaty, juicy, crunchy way of feeling indulgent and health-conscious at the same time. The Roman pizza is a flatbread with vegan tofu sausage, white bean and garlic purée, and a tomato-basil relish.

I had a vegan Rueben sandwich with traditional pickled cabbage and a non-dairy cheese. They were out of the homemade Thousand Island Dressing (which I missed), but their homemade mayo was pleasing enough. My dining companions enjoyed a hearty vegetable soup with tons of different veggies, and one had a gluten-free brownie. Delish!

Pembroke uses soy-free vegan margarine and sustainably harvested palm oil. They are proud to support local farmers whenever possible, and believe in fresh, fair, and sustainable practices at all times. Next time I'm going back to try some of their coffee.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Faustus by Shakespearemachine

There is a beautiful three-sided stage in the multi-purpose arts building across from the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. It also contains gallery space, the offices of Fort Wayne Trails, and a coffee shop. It's next door to the Park Place Building (on the other corner of Barr Street and Main).
In the photo above, I reveal just our heads, because the selfie is not important - but, the brilliant acting by the Shakespearemachine company, is.

Faustus is the story of a German genius who makes a deal with the devil. Faustus is bored with the limits of his academic studies and wants to learn about magic and necromancy (black magic). He urges his assistant, Wagner, to conjure and bring out dark spirits. Eventually, the servant of Lucifer, named Mephistophilis, is brought before him. Faustus signs a deal with the devil for him to be bound to Mephistophilis for twenty-four long years. For this, he receives unlimited power. He has second thoughts, but the temptation of jewels, riches, and other luxuries intoxicate him, and prolong his struggle with good versus evil. He indulges himself and goes on a twenty-four year reign of terror; binging, sexing, and otherwise indulging in self-destructive behavior.

Our local cast put on an amazing performance. Chase Francis was absolutely transformed into his role of Faustus. He memorized an amazing cadre of lines, and stumbled not a single moment. Voice wonderful, presence electric, his brilliant physicality was unmatched. The perfect antagonist was Halee Brant as the henchman of the devil: Mephistophilis. She commanded the room in this role, and took on a part as lead puppeteer to dramatize the seven deadly sins: greed, sloth, gluttony, rage, envy, lasciviousness and pride, (although I may not have remembered them all correctly). Ms. Brant was a skilled puppeteer and played all her parts seamlessly.

There were only six actors in the Shakespearemachine performance. They switched from part to part with no noise. We were thrilled to see them arising from under the stage, running in and out of the stage wings, and appearing from doors in the back stage wall. They even came out from trap doors under the stage floor. Each was unrecognizable in a constantly parading change of masks and costumes.

Nick Tash was an inspired director and lighting designer. Simple lamps lit performers so their silhouettes appeared as giants. Floor lamps doubled as instruments for simulated masturbation. Books lit up until they seemed to be objects from a dark world, luring subjects into hell. A hooded and masked Alex Volz accompanied the show with 'Muzak'- actually, the heavy metal, electric guitar version of such.

It was a wonderful performance by a half-dozen local actors playing all the parts, with cast and crew adding to the body count. Playwright Christopher Marlowe was a contemporary of William Shakepeare. Son of a Canterbury shoemaker, he received a Master of Arts degree and became a dramatist to give the other greats of his time - pause. For much of his life, Marlowe was thought to be a spy for Queen Elizabeth I. Later, he was charged for a crime for which he could be put to death: atheism and blasphemy. He died at the tender age of 29, having been stabbed over a tavern bill.

Perhaps had Marlowe lived longer, he would have given the Bard a serious run for the money. Yet, it is considered even with his young death, Marlowe influenced Shakespeare greatly. We know we loved this company's mind blowing production of Faustus, and can't wait to see their production of Macbeth in November of 2018.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Road Trip of a Lifetime - Off to Kentucky to View the Eclipse Totality

Although the Fort Wayne, Indiana area was destined to see a partial eclipse of the sun in August of 2017, I wanted to be able to see a total eclipse. So, I made plans to drive far enough south that I could take off my eclipse glasses and see the "wedding ring" or corona when the moon completely covered the sun. The sun's rays poking out around the moon in a total eclipse are also described as the 'diamond ring effect' and the ring of fire. This was the stuff of which legends were made. The United States wouldn't see another total eclipse until the year 2024, so it was time to seize the moment.

As early as April or May, I began pouring over maps that laid out the path of absolute eclipse totality across the United States. Although I'm familiar with Carbondale and Makanda, Illinois, to there would be a farther drive than to somewhere straight south. Those areas were also getting a lot of news coverage, so I thought traffic from Chicago to southern Illinois would be bad. Traffic jams were being predicted all over the ranges of the totality anyway, so probably no where was safe from tons of folks and cars.

I chose Franklin, KY, as our viewing site, and had to reserve a motel room in Bowling Green, which was about a half-hour drive away. Everything closer was booked. The day before the eclipse, on Sunday, my partner and I drove out past Indianapolis, Columbus IN, Louisville KY, Elizabethtown, and Mammoth Caves before stopping in Bowling Green. We would have booked a tour of Mammoth Caves since we were going right by there, but there was no availability. Our little motel was near the highway and a Corvette museum. There was also a Corvette factory nearby, which was good to see from an economic perspective.

We got up early the next morning, picked up some more food and water from a grocery store, and headed to our envisioned viewing site. Franklin KY is a town of about 8400 off of Interstate 65 and Route 100. I had read that the main venue for viewing there was supposed to be the drive-in theater, with scientists from Pasadena and other remote locales attending and setting up their telescopes. And as far as the whole trip, although Google maps reported it would take 5 1/2 hours travel time, it was actually much slower with road construction and lots of traffic. Hence, patience is a virtue and perhaps a requirement when driving to and from an eclipse event.

We found ourselves setting up camp at Freedom Pavilion near the boat ramp at West Fork Drakes Creek. We met people who had driven from Ontario, Canada, Indiana, and Ohio. One man had set up his canvas shade with frame and offered to share it along with him and his dog. He was from Dayton and had come alone - he said his wife was a school teacher and couldn't get away. We met some locals, and a young man that attached his hammock to a telephone pole and his truck. He said he had recently graduated from Purdue University and was on his way back from a trip to New Orleans.

It was a hot August day, so we decided to kill some time by taking a dip in the creek. There was no designated swimming area and the boat ramp was taken over by families with fishing tackle, so we figured we were going to have to bushwhack our way to the water. We changed into swimming suits and walked down a weedy, overrun path to the stream. Pushing out through a muddy, mucky bottom, we were finally free and floating downstream. The water was comfortably cool and we paddled around, enjoying ourselves as we commented about the fishing line hung up in the overhead power line. "What an out-of-control cast!", one of us said.

So, we dried off, killed some more time, chatted, snacked, and then: the murmur built through the crowd. "It's starting!" We put on our eclipse glasses and looked up at the sun. The glasses make everything so dark, it's impossible to see anything else through them. Then, there it was: the black moon taking a bite out of the orange sun. The darkness started to surreally creep into the sky, little by little. The breeze became cooler. The insects and birds seemed to vocalize about the same where we were, although we were told their sounds might intensify. People looked through telescopes and binoculars if they had the right filters. Some folks ineffectively tried to take cell phone photos, but this proved impossible without the correct equipment.

As the sky slowly got darker and darker, the existing light became more eerie. Apparently the moon blocking most of the sun's light serves to focus and intensify what still gets through. So shadows are strangely sharp even though the light is low. As totality approached, I was very excited and my partner was very calm. People began to cheer as the sun disappeared from the strong daylight. The cool came with a rush as the sky got dark as twilight. A few faint stars appeared, as did lights of planes filming high overhead. The whine of a couple drones could be heard in our area, as I'm sure they were filming the event as well.

Then, the big moment came: we took off our glasses. The site was beautiful and strangely surreal. The gaseous corona was sharply white at the edge of the black moon, with feathery wisps trailing off. It was magnificent. It made a human feel very small, just tiny in the space of things. Yet, it also helped one see his place in the universe, and was rewarding to experience and witness this kind of natural, eternal greatness. It seemed a two-and-half minutes suspended in time, for posterity.

As quick as it began, it was over, and the sun started to come back out. People began to pack up their stuff and start to leave, hoping to get ahead of traffic. Sadly, most of them would soon find themselves stuck on the long treks down the highways. But hopefully for most, the unpleasant crowd memories would quickly begin to fade, leaving the image of the bites of sun, and the beautiful white ring, surrounding the perfect black circle of our constant companion and friend moon - forever imprinted in our minds, hearts and dreams. It's a day I hope never to forget. For me, all the effort was worth it.